The act of listening to a person's story can be one of the most transformative experiences people can give one another.
At the United Way Celebrating Success event on June 9, organizers, volunteers and non-profit professionals heard directly from those who had struggled and managed to overcome homelessness or near-homelessness. This was the first time the event, held throughout the metro-Atlanta area, was held in Rockdale County.
"It really breaks down that barrier and stereotype of what you think homelessness really is," said organizer Amber Scott. "You get to talk to an actual person and lot of the stories, you’re able to relate it to yourself and see that you aren’t necessarily that far from being in that same situation."
Six "storytellers," three from Rockdale and three from the greater Atlanta area, were spread among a room of about fifty people,during a lunch at the Conyers First United Methodist Church. The listeners were charged with "interviewing" the "storyteller" and writing down the details of their life.
Many of the storytellers came from stable backgrounds before a sudden life change, either a job loss or a medical emergency or situation, upended their lives. One of the participants had a master’s degree in computer science, and another was a military veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
William Traylor’s experience was representative in many ways. Traylor, 37, a former truck driver, single parent, and PTA vice president, had moved to Conyers four years ago from a small town in Arkansas after separating from his wife. Last year, he fell into difficult circumstances after his thumb was crushed in an accident and he lost his job. Despite working odd jobs to try and make ends meet while waiting for unemployment paperwork to get sorted out, he was on the verge of losing the house where he and his daughters, 8 and 10 years old, lived.
"There was one time my baby girl came to me and there was nothing in our house to eat," he recalled, his voice cracking. "There wasn’t even a cracker. She said ‘Daddy, I’m hungry.’ I said to myself, I’ll never, ever allow her to ask me that again. Whatever it takes to make sure they eat, that’s what I’m going to do."
He was able to get in touch with Rockdale Emergency Relief, which helped him out with his payments until his unemployment benefit was straightened out. He hopes to go to school to eventually become a mortician and work in the funeral industry.
At the end of the event, the notes taken by the "interviewers" were collected and may be used for United Way promotional material. To find out more about United Way’s initiative on homelessness, visit unitedwayatlanta.org/homelessness or call 678-623-2890. - Michelle Kim